June 25, 2020

Shabbat 75

To my mind, the most intriguing of all the 39 prohibited Shabbat melachot listed in the Mishna (Shabbat 7:2) is המכה בפטיש, literally ‘one who strikes with a hammer’, but understood to refer to any activity – such as striking the final hammer blow – that completes the manufacture of an item.

In today’s daf (Shabbat 75b) we are presented with three examples of המכה בפטיש which, together, illustrate the wide variation of activities that fall under this melacha: (1) Someone who etches or engraves an image on a vessel; (2) Someone who, as part of the glass making process, blows into the glass and thereby creates its shape, and (3) Someone who removes any unwanted fibres from a garment so that it may now be worn.

When reflecting on these three examples, I think that it is of significance that the first refers to an action performed ‘on’ a hard vessel (e.g. metal); the second refers to an action performed ‘in’ a currently soft material that will soon harden (i.e. glass); and the third refers to removing an item ‘from’ a soft material (e.g. wool). What this teaches us is that המכה בפטיש is sometimes achieved by what we do ‘on’ an item, sometimes by what we do ‘in’ an item, and sometimes by what we take ‘from’ an item, and that המכה בפטיש occurs in the manufacture of every type of product – whether it be a hard, semi-soft or soft product being produced.

Yet in addition to these three examples helping us understand the rules of המכה בפטיש vis-à-vis Shabbat, I also think they help us understand the things that we sometimes need to do to feel a sense of completion in the different aspects of our lives.

There are moments when we feel more complete when we add ‘on’ to our lives such as when we make time for a hobby or pasttime which, like an engraving, becomes a feature of who we are.

There are other times when we feel more complete by what we add ‘in’ to our lives such as spiritual pursuits which, like glass blowing, help us grow.

And there are other times when removing certain unwanted elements from our lives helps us feel more comfortable and which is therefore an action of self-improvement and self-completion.

And just like the three examples which refer to different types of products (hard, semi-soft or soft), what we learn from here is that all of us, whatever our situation, whether we live a very orderly life that seems hard to change, a life that has room for change, or a life that is very flexible, can do things to improve our lives and, at least in some way, help ourselves to feel a little more complete.

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